The Renaissance of Health Education in 2020

“Where are my students?”, you wonder, as the bell rings for fifth period. After a call to the office, you realize that you were left off the staff e-mail (again) alerting you to the assembly in the gym during fifth period. Ah, another case of “The Forgotten Health Teacher”. We are “non-essential” in the world of education. Or, are we?…

Health education is a spin-off of home economics, another field of education often viewed as regressive in the modern curriculum. Ironically, home economics originated as a science from MIT chemist Ellen Swallow Richards in 1882. This new domain intended to apply scientific principles to domestic topics. This increased efficiency was meant to allow women more time for other worthy pursuits, like furthering their education. It was developed to liberate women from housework, rather than become slaves to it, as was often decried during the Women’s Liberation Movement. The test-score driven “No Child Left Behind Act” (U.S., 2002) stymied any arguments in favor of home economics as a laudable subject.
Out of the ashes, health education emerged. Although it was officially introduced in the UK and US in the 1840s as a “compulsory course”, it didn’t take hold for another 160 years. It was not until 2003, when the World Health Organization launched its “Sustainable Development Goals” that the notion of teaching health in schools began to gain credence. As our world transitioned into the new millennium, the WHO decreed health education as essential in the assurance of healthy lives and the promotion of well-being for all.
Now, we are faced with a worldwide health crisis. Like a thief in the night, COVID-19 came in stealing our social interactions, thus increasing stress and anxiety. Our students are especially at-risk right now, as the virtual world cannot adequately convey or replace the nuances of emotional messages between human beings in a face-to-face setting. Supporting the three facets of health- physical, social-emotional, and mental- are of paramount importance to protect, promote, and preserve the overall balanced wellness of our students. As the experts in this realm, it is our duty to apply our knowledge as the context for skill development by our students.
Our kids are craving connections in ways that are authentic and familiar. They are grappling with the new expectations, and maybe disheartened by the new approaches to learning. They are uncertain, afraid, and detached. Helping students develop strategies to survive isolation by renewing their self-worth and sense of security is an
integral part of the pedagogue of skills-based health education. People who know their value have the confidence to face setbacks with courage, and see them as the learning opportunities that they are. Including parents as part of this process will also strengthen familial relationships, and assist them with strategies to help themselves and those in their household to cope.
Amidst a world of isolation, we can advocate for unification to foster a healthier humankind. So, fellow health educators, here we are: necessary.

By Linda Belocas, Grade K-5 Health Teacher. Plymouth, Massachusetts USA

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